Photo by Caitlin Abrams
Heyday in Minneapolis
Is it possible to be original when it comes to food? After all, there are seven billion people on the planet (and more coming!) eating three meals a day (and bags of mini-donuts too!). So you have to figure that at any given moment, someone has already done every single thing—bark-roasted tree frogs, Cup Noodles in the boeuf bourguignon, Doritos tacos. Obviously there are inventions—gin, chocolate bars, the Juicy Lucy—but originality is something else, a new way of seeing the world. Visual artists make their careers from originality all the time—a different way of drawing, a unique color palette—but you almost never see originality in food. So why can’t I shake the sense that Jim Christiansen’s food at his new south Minneapolis restaurant Heyday is shockingly, uncomfortably, meaningfully original?
Consider Heyday’s appetizer of chilled mussels. Order it and the first thing you’ll notice: You get something that doesn’t look like food. You receive a big rough-hewn pottery plate with something that looks like a snowball fell into the middle of a garden. As you behold it, you see it’s not entirely a snowball; it’s a few brown things and a few green things in a sort of puddle, the brown and green things bearing some relationship to the rest of the dish, which is a blinding white thick layer of snow. Ever seen a crocus buried by a snowfall in Minnesota spring, the warm earth melting the snow from the bottom up? That’s what these mussels bring to mind. Dig in to the snow hill with your fork and you find delicious, surprising, novel little combinations with every forkful. There are three different solid things in the snow pile you can catch with your fork: thick and very crunchy just-fried potato chips, quick-brined fresh cucumber pickles made with an earthy shot of mustard, and, of course, poached mussels. The three elements sit on a small island of razor-clam and mussel gelatin, which is itself covered with a separate snow, a razor-clam snow (snow in this instance is made by making a razor-clam broth, which is turned into a razor-clam emulsion, which is turned into a razor-clam foam, which is finally frozen with liquid nitrogen to turn into a powder that looks very much like snow). The mussels, cucumbers, and potato chips then rest in the base of gel and snow, where they are surrounded by overlapping separate sauces of lemon oil, vinegar, and fresh dill, and then when all of this is built, it is immediately buried under a fresh and heavy snowstorm of yogurt, itself emulsified, foamed, frozen, and finally sprinkled.
Why bother and toil with all of this obfuscating snow? Surprisingly, this snow-blind of mussels makes the most surprising, delicious, diverting dish I’ve had in years: One forkful retrieves a cucumber with one side perilously frozen and meshed with yogurt, the opposite side warm and alive with dill. A single mussel can contain three textures and two flavors, and by the time you get to the next mussel you’ll discover yet another collection of different flavors, textures, and temperatures. The dish is growing, changing, morphing on your plate and in your own mouth as you eat it: It reminds me of the legendary Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans from Harry Potter, except without the sugar. And real. Not bad for seven bucks in a former laundromat.
The lamb tartare is nearly as astonishing. It’s all roses, blood, spice, and sex. It’s made with local Shepherd Song lamb, mostly lamb leg but some raw lamb heart, the crimson meat lashed with even more scarlet smoky Espelette pepper, the pulsing concoction tossed with the pickled buds of new elderberry flowers and sunchoke mayonnaise for earth and a glistening quality. It’s a dish to stop you in your tracks. It tastes like a smoldering carnal fire and is even better when scooped up with the freshly fried artichoke chips, which Christiansen attaches around the tartare like the most foreboding crown of thorns.
There are some dishes that are perfectly ordinary, for example a beef fillet with sunchokes, morels, and sweetbreads, but the ordinary dishes don’t make as much impression as the original ones. The roast squab, for instance, is another hot and bothered concoction, served berry red and perched on a sort of ocean egg case of a few hundred perfectly spherical little marbles of tapioca, beet, and hibiscus, so sensuous it almost seems illicit. Pair the squab with an oddball wine like the carbonated, sour, and energetic Sicilian red Nerello Mascalese and dinner begins to seem very much like a wholly original departure from previously known local life. Not bad for week six of a brand-new restaurant.
Not that Christiansen is a new chef. He is a protégé of Tim McKee and has worked for Minneapolis’s first James Beard Award–winning chef since La Belle Vie was in Stillwater. Christiansen was involved with some level or other of the food at several of McKee’s other projects—Solera and Sea Change—until McKee appointed him to his first restaurant, the ill-fated Parasole concept Il Gatto, which was brilliant in its last months. Christiansen’s next stop was Union, which he opened to rave reviews but soon left to open his own place, Heyday, with longtime friend (and former La Belle Vie manager) Lorin Zinter.
At first glance, Heyday seems comprehensible enough: a few thousand running feet of reclaimed barn wood, as we do around here, and a sweet tribute to the corner’s history, with a big quote over the bar from The Replacements’ “Here Comes a Regular,” which was written about the neighboring CC Club. The easily understood bits of Heyday make it seem like the spot key La Belle Vie junior staff would make if they could: The cocktails, by Britt Tracy, are the food-friendliest artisanal cocktails I can remember, made with fresh beet juice and tequila (The Beetnik) or bourbon, lemon, Campari, jalapeño, and ginger (the Bitter Red Head), somehow coming out with the necessary balance of acid and sweetness to work with food as wine does. The wine list, by another La Belle Vie alum, Dani Megears, is extraordinary, packed as it is with the esoteric oddballs that work like a combination of catnip and a secret handshake on wine people. The Hungarian furmint, for instance, finishes with a characteristic filigree of honeysuckle and eucalyptus; it pairs beautifully with the endive and nettles with the chicken, and it is about as crazy beautiful an experience as you can have in a restaurant on an ordinary Tuesday. There’s real, and really excellent, apricot-and-silk Sauternes to pair with the cheese, for eight bucks.
If you did want to prove that Heyday is in fact a clubhouse for La Belle Vie fooderati on their nights off, the $3 cheese crisps, currently only available after 10 pm in the bar, are certainly proof of this idea. To make these, Christiansen creates a dough from tapioca starch and aged Gruyere cheese, rolls it flat, steams it, dries it, and fries it—and what emerges are like chicharones, as fluffy and crisp as anything that comes out of a Funyons factory, but tasting of the sweet meadow funk that is good Gruyere. They are served with a fancy onion dip. They are impossibly great. They are fine dining having a bourbon after work and just being silly.
And yet, simply calling Heyday the La Belle Vie clubhouse doesn’t capture what’s really going on. Consider the ice cream. I think I ordered this ice cream three times because I could not get my head around it. Order it and you get a signature rough-hewn pottery bowl, filled up high with a lot of colorful textures that don’t look much like food. There are roughly torn red papers (peeled poached rhubarb puree, dehydrated), icy red crystal clusters (rhubarb granité), black floaty clumps that look like ash (brewer’s licorice—it tastes subtly like anise and mint, not like black candy licorice), and, buried under all that, which you only find when you dig, a tart and tangy housemade crème fraîche ice cream. All together, this stuff is delicious! So many kinds of rhubarb sour, so many kinds of light and herbal and sweet—it’s the dessert of the year so far, no question. But it doesn’t seem anything like the work of Diane Yang, the La Belle Vie pastry chef who collaborated with Christiansen to make these desserts. There are no precise cylinders, decorous dots, pretty prettiness. In fact, they are anti-pretty. The banana-yuzu sundae is scorched-black marshmallow fluff entirely hidden beneath a lean-to built of meringue sheets, and it’s just delicious, with banana flavors, tropical sour flavors, toasty nut and marshmallow flavors, plus half a dozen riveting textures. These are the ugliest great desserts I’ve ever had. They are original. They’re also lusty, often hidden, fearless, and, in the way of something actually original, incomparable. 2700 Lyndale Ave. S., Mpls., 612-200-9369, heydayeats.com